Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship

v.9 no.1 (Spring 2008)

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Increasing Impact of Scholarly Journal Articles: Practical Strategies Librarians Can Share

Laura Bowering Mullen, Behavioral Sciences Librarian
Library of Science and Medicine, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey, USA


Researchers are extremely interested in increasing the impact of their individual scholarly work, and may turn to academic librarians for advice and assistance. Academic librarians may find new roles as consultants to authors in methods of self-archiving and citation analysis.  Librarians can be proactive in this new role by disseminating current information on all citation analysis tools and metrics, as well as by offering strategies to increase Web visibility of scholarship to interested faculty. Potential authors of journal articles, especially those faculty seeking greater research impact, such as those seeking promotion and tenure, will find practical suggestions from librarians invaluable. Citation analysis tools continue to improve in their coverage of social and behavioral science fields, and emerging metrics allow more flexibility in demonstrating impact of published journal articles.

Increasing Impact of Scholarly Journal Articles: Practical Strategies Librarians Can Share

Academic librarians are always seeking new ways to use their expertise to assist faculty and students. Faculty and other researchers are interested in learning practical tips to increase Web visibility of their publications, thereby hoping to increase the impact of their own scholarship by reaching more readers on the internet. The traditional paradigms are changing, and librarians may be well positioned for new roles in consulting with clients about methods of increasing research impact of published articles. This type of reference service may be especially valuable to faculty seeking promotion and tenure, or to others wishing to take advantage of developments in open access for personal gain. By keeping certain strategies in mind when writing for publication, authors can realize greater impact of their articles. Academic librarians can disseminate information about strategies that authors can be use when choosing publications, and provide information on new methods of proving impact in different ways.

There have been many new developments with citation analysis of late, and librarians need to be able to educate clientele about emerging tools and metrics. Impressive new citation analysis tools allow a researcher to package and demonstrate impact textually and graphically. New metrics such as the “h-index,” and “eigenfactor” are providing alternate ways of looking at the impact of citations, authors, and individual journals.1 Librarians will need to be conversant in these and other emerging metrics in order to remain relevant to discussions about citation analysis, especially in STM areas.  New research guides and finding aids should be made available from the library Website to assist faculty and others in keeping up with the most current strategies about open access, and then assisting them in quantitatively demonstrating the increased impact that may result. There are some concerns about the costs of providing all of the necessary citation analysis tools within stretched library budgets. However, some tools are Web-based and free. Some question whether it should be the province of the library to teach classes in citation searching and analysis for purposes of promotion and tenure, or whether it is appropriate for librarians to assist faculty and other researchers in maximizing their impact through self-archiving and other means.

By now, it has become fairly well accepted that open access associated with greater Web visibility increases research impact. A plethora of quantitative studies are available as part of a helpful Webliography that librarians may share with researchers. This Webliography, published by the “Open Citation Project” is updated regularly, and is a one-stop shop for anyone looking to bolster the argument that “open access increases research impact.”2 Librarians can offer advice to constituents on strategies to increase visibility of their peer-reviewed journal articles. Subject specialist librarians can prepare discipline-specific information on self-archiving and matters of impact. This information can be disseminated from the library via the Website, or through personal consultation between librarian and researcher. Faculty and other researchers may now be seeking this type of information, and the time may now be opportune for reference and faculty liaison librarians to get involved in proactively disseminating practical information. Much information discussed previously on these topics has largely been theoretical, or scattered in a variety of library publications and Websites.

For more than a decade, many librarians and scientists have persistently made the case that self-archiving is the open access strategy that would prove most effective for the rapid and widespread dissemination of peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles. Stevan Harnad, first in his “subversive proposal” and still today, continues to advocate for self-archiving of preprints and postprints in repositories as a mechanism to increase Web visibility. This has often been called the “green” road to open access.3  This mechanism of increasing visibility is outside of the traditional publishing system, and only requires authors to retain rights, and to deposit their own work in a digital repository of their choice. Librarians must understand the potential of self-archiving to transform the scholarly communication system for many disciplines.

Peter Suber has also published many Weblists and articles for librarians who would like to remain current with open access initiatives and trends.4 Depending on the university, librarians might not only be expected to lead the discussion on self-archiving, but also to assist researchers with the actual process of depositing scholarly work in appropriate digital repositories. Those working at libraries developing institutional repositories will also take on the task of encouraging faculty to participate in the population of the institutional repository.

There are many other types of open access models. Open access journals, “born digital” on the Web, also offer promise for authors seeking impact. Open access journals are included in traditional indexing and abstracting sources, and many have gained prestige in their respective fields. As with any journal, authors should make sure the open access journal is one of quality in the traditional sense. Peer review status, stature of editors and reviewers, and other measures of quality have transitioned well to this new publishing model. Librarians may also be asked to help in choosing an open access publication outlet for a researcher looking to submit peer-reviewed scholarship to a journal that would be free to all on the Web. Also, many traditional journals have liberalized policies and changed business models to accommodate some aspects of open access. Some of the largest commercial publishers may have liberal policies when it comes to self-archiving of postprints.

However it is shared and promulgated, information on open access journals, self-archiving, choosing between different models offered by traditional journals, and the most current citation analysis methods  must be discussed and offered to library clientele.  Who will be responsible for continuous education of librarians in these areas, and for making decisions about what services will be offered to various groups?  Librarians may have broken ranks on some of these issues, not wanting to be responsible for any negative outcome to researchers, or not agreeing with some of the open access strategies currently being trumpeted by library advocacy organizations.

Many have heard of open access, but do not know how to apply the principles and reap the benefits in a strictly practical sense. Open access is a ubiquitous topic in the library world at the moment, and is well-established in some STM disciplines. Those in humanities and some social sciences areas, which have been slower to adopt changes in scholarly communications, may be more apt to need background information on the movement. Many are not sure how open access will affect them. However, information on any strategy for increasing impact through greater Web visibility will be welcomed by researchers.  This is information that faculty members and other research clientele of academic libraries will undoubtedly find compelling and useful. Librarians may want to share the following strategies with all library users in person, from the desk, or through the library Website. The following is an example of a list that academic librarians may want to disseminate widely. This type of list is targeted not to librarians, but to faculty and researchers they work with.

What practical steps can authors take to increase impact of scholarly journal articles: